The UK Facepalms

by Joshua Foust on 9/30/2009 · 6 comments

So, when you have a largely illiterate population, and it’s pretty common knowledge they respond more to a person than to a piece of paper they cannot read, dropping huge boxes of leaflets seems like a bad idea in general. When those boxes land on children and kill them, it might be time to reconsider your engagement policies:

The girl died after being hit on June 27 by the box of leaflets, which were being regularly distributed in the run-up to presidential elections held in August.

“Sadly one of the boxes failed to fully open and on landing caused serious injuries to an Afghan child,” a Royal Air Force spokesman said in a statement.

That would be during the initial stages of the latest Helmand massive offensive that went… nowhere.

Talk about path dependency. Do they actually expect illiterate people to respond to anonymous papers dropped from the sky? Is that the best we have, still, after all these years? Sigh.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Ian September 30, 2009 at 9:48 am

It is sad.

So you would say night letters are a completely ineffective form of propaganda, too, right? Cuz they’re aimed at the same illiterate people. I’m not saying that leaflets are the best thing, but using the written language to communicate has its charms.

Joshua Foust September 30, 2009 at 11:18 am

Well, it depends. In some areas, people complain about night letters but cannot read them — they just know it’s the Taliban (or other insurgents) threatening them. Does that count as effective? I honestly don’t know.

I do know that tacking a letter to a house is somewhat more persuasive—if only because it is also more personal—than dropping crates of fire tinder on a village.

Ian September 30, 2009 at 12:36 pm

No, I agree that dropping crates on children is not an effective way to communicate. And I think we probably agree that, more important than the method of delivery, what matters to the Afghan audience is what the message is, and how persuasive that message is in light of experienced reality. Tho one could argue that part of the persuasiveness is being able to hand deliver the message.

I also think there’s at least literate person in even the smaller villages who can read it out loud to the people whose jobs don’t involve reading.

Ian September 30, 2009 at 12:36 pm

at least ONE literate person, I meant to say

dennis September 30, 2009 at 3:38 pm

well it is a shame that the child died. but there should be some other way to do this. at the most they have paper for the morning fire. may have to go out to hand them out personally. oh wait that would mean leaving the safety of a fob. and having contact with the locales.

AJM September 30, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I think PSYOPS, if they have any sense, use lots of pictures/ cartoons to get the message across. I dont think the leaflets quote Shakespeare.

US examples:

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